There’s no blueprint outlining the way for a player to build success in the Central?West Senior Hockey?League, but more often than not, those that populate the list of scoring leaders in the circuit are there for a reason.
Most played four full seasons of major junior hockey, and those who didn’t have pro careers afterwards — and even some who did — went on to play collegiate hockey in the Atlantic University Sport conference, players like the Corner Brook Royals’ Brandon Hynes and Ryan Salvis, the Grand Falls-Windsor Cataracts’ Luke Gallant and Cam Fergus, and the Clarenville Caribous’ Stewart MacRae.
But then there’s Danny Wicks, the Mount Pearl native who spent three seasons bouncing around the Maritime Junior A Hockey League, and now finds himself among the league leaders in his second season of senior hockey with the Cataracts.
Heading into the final weekend of the CWSHL regular season, the winger is tied for sixth in the league in scoring — fourth on the powerhouse Cataracts — with 11 goals and 30 points in 22 games.
Mind you, Wicks isn’t the only Maritime league product who is a standout in the CWSHL. His Grand Falls-Windsor teammate Steve Yetman and the Caribous’ Ryan Desrosiers — third and fourth in league scoring — both played in the MJAHL, but Yetman went on to play pro hockey in Europe afterwards and Desrosiers spent four subsequent seasons in the AUS with St. Francis Xavier. Wicks, meanwhile, came straight to the Cats after finishing his junior A career with the Yarmouth Mariners. However, he didn’t come close to producing his present numbers in his first season with Grand Falls-Windsor, when he finished with three goals and eight points in 20 games.
The 22-year-old from Mount Pearl insists his breakout campaign is simply the result of more opportunity.
“With the new rules in the league this year — losing an import and the roster reduction — it opened the door for me to play a few more minutes and have a little bit more responsibility,” says Wicks.
“The coach gave me the opportunity to play with Fergus and Andrew Brennan all year, which definitely helped my cause.”
Fergus, who was last year’s scoring champ and who is leading the league in points again, thinks highly of his young linemate.
“It just seems like he enjoys winning and scoring goals and that’s reflected in his play,” says Fergus, who praises Wicks’ quick skating and ability to come away from a one-on-one battle with the puck. “He really works hard and he’s one of those guys who is easy to play with.
“He really makes it easier for me. He's covering for me a lot in the D zone,” he adds with a chuckle.
Fergus is not the only one in impressed with Wicks. Cataracts play-by-play man George Scott says the youngster is strong at both ends of the ice, but feels his “biggest asset is his hockey smarts.”
“He just needed regular playing time to show how good he can be. The cliche is high hockey IQ ... his is one of the highest I've witnessed from a young player,” says Scott.
“It took him a few games but (he) was able to figure out quickly where he needs to be in certain situations when (Fergus) has the puck.”
Wicks admits his first season in the senior ranks took some adapting. After all, he went from lining up against players his age and younger in his final season Yarmouth, to playing against men, some 15 to 20 years his senior.
“With a year under my belt, it’s definitely helped out,” he says.
It also helped having a few familiar faces around in former St. John’s Fog Devils major midget teammates Brandon Bussey and Michael Cole, whom the Cats’ selected, along with Wicks, in the league’s 2014 entry draft.
“We didn't know if we'd get picked up or not and when we ended up getting picked by the same team, we were pretty excited ,” says Wicks.
“It made the whole process of going out there for the first weekend a little easier and getting to play with a couple of your best buddies definitely makes the whole thing a little easier.”
It’s not lost on Wicks that a lot of senior hockey players will never get a chance to play for a Herder Memorial Trophy — let alone an Allan Cup national senior men’s title — in their lifetime. Wicks did both in his rookie season.
“When we were drafted by the Cataracts last year, it was a bit of an honour knowing the history of the team. Coming into a team like that, with that much success it's a privilege,” he says.
The Cataracts close out the season this weekend in Gander against the last-place Flyers and Wicks says it could be the biggest two-game set of the season for the club.
“We lost both games last weekend and one of our two the weekend before, so we’re not playing our best hockey right now,” he says of two tough weekend series against the Corner Brook Royals, who have handed the Cataracts four of their seven losses this season. “Hopefully this weekend, we can get back on track and go into the playoffs on a winning streak and keep it going.”
Game times at the Gander Community Centre are 7:30 tonight and Sunday 1:30 p.m.
Elsewhere this weekend, the Royals welcome the Caribous to the Corner Brook Civic Centre today at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday afternoon at 2 o’clock.